Avery Abernethy, 28 June 2019
“December 25th, 1914. In the sleepy town of Grovers Mill the 6th Infantry is celebrating Christmas when suddenly the peaceful night is shattered; Martian Tripods have broken through the front lines!” described this Origins session. That sounds different. This Origins I decided to play miniatures for the first time. Silent Night, Martian Night was pick #2 when I built my Origins schedule.
I knew nothing about the game, the game world, or miniatures play. But it sounded weird and potentially fun.
Jim Beegan and Adrian John built a huge, destructible battle-map diorama based on the All Quiet on the Martian Frontminiature system. As you can see, the layout was gorgeous. Premade “lit smoke plumes” marked destroyed buildings or destroyed Martian walkers.
We played a three versus three matchup. Each Martian players ran a big walker, a scout walker, and three drones. I played one group of Martians. The other three divided up the troops of the 6thInfantry with heavy tank reinforcements.
All Quiet on the Martian Front is an alternative WW1 with Earth invaded by Martians. Ground troops wear breathing protection and rudimentary body armor. Tanks are far advanced from historical 1914.
As you can see, the playfield was massive. Jim and Adrian went to a huge amount of work to build the play field plus considerable trouble to transport it to Origins.
The rules were simple. Martians got points for blowing up buildings and killing civilians. If the Martian players failed to obtain 55 points they lost. The human players attempted to evacuate civilians while delaying the Martian advance. To complicate matters, a river crosses the playfield. A single bridge can be blown, greatly slowing Martian movement.
Players had reference with movement rates, types of fire, range of fire, armor and attack die. The Martians had area effect fire beams and even more powerful direct fire shots. But Martians could fire a very small number of shots per turn. Humans had swarms of units, an amazing total fire rate, but each shot was relatively weak.
I knew nothing about this game specifically or miniature combat generally, but Jim and Adrian made it easy to play. Two players had played using these rules, everyone else were newbies.
Jim and Adrian put in an amazing amount of work build and transport the playfield. Rules were communicated clearly, and they helped with the logistics of moving the horde of civilians fleeing the Martian onslaught. Everyone had a good time and I took more pictures of this event than any other I played at Origins.
However, the Martians lost and probably never had a chance at victory. Martians cannot come within an inch of any revealed human unit and lack overrun. With the fire rate and armor class, competent human players can block the relatively narrow roads by sacrificing troops for time in this six-turn game. The Martians had to cross the river to kill enough civilians (or blow up enough buildings) to score the 55 points needed for victory – and terrain choke points made that almost impossible.
But play balance is the easiest thing to fix in any game. A boring game system, incoherent rules, or a bad game design are much harder to overcome. An adjustment of the score needed to win, providing some level of points for torching (literally!) human military units, allowing overrun attacks by the Martian Walkers (even if this was just a pass-through movement with a free shot by immediate defenders) could all lead to better play balance. Hot dice rolls by the humans (they won initiative the first four turns and blew the bridge on the first attempt) helped, but with minimal tactical skill a human player should block enough choke points to evacuate most of the civilians and achieve victory.
This was fun! I’m glad I played. And my description and photos undersells the visual wonder Jim and Adrian brought to Origins.
Avery Abernethy came all the way from Alabama to play games for five days at Origins. He started playing Avalon Hill wargames in elementary school and computer games during the punch card era.